Tom in America
Directed by Flavio Alves
Written by Flavio Alves, Scott Alexander Hess, and Jeffrey Solomon
Premiered June 17, 2014 at the Palm Springs International Film Festival
Review by C. Todd White
September 14, 2018.
Writer/Director Flavio Alves has crafted a gem of a film that has been making the rounds at LGBT film festivals around the world since its Palm Springs debut last summer. 1
Tom in America opens with Betty [Sally Kirkland] and Michael [Burt Young] celebrating their golden anniversary, an intimate gathering with their daughters and friends in honor of fifty years of successful marriage.
Presumably retired and now a junker by trade, Michael prowls the curbs of suburban New York in search of sellable treasures. One morning, he discovers the discarded remains of a marriage in ruins as signified by an un-strung tennis racket and battered white nightstand. In the top drawer of this, Michael finds a photograph under shattered glass of sun-spangled newlyweds, he in black tie and she under veil. This he discards. In the second drawer, though, he finds a leather-clad “action” doll, which he presumes to be “some kind of superhero.”
Returning home to Betty, he shows her the daily gains. She scoffs at the unstrung tennis racked and grabs the anatomically exaggerated “body builder” doll. “Well at least he’s excited to see me” she quips.
The scene jumps to a day or so later, where two gay men start a bidding war over the doll at Michael’s flea market stand. They each were quick to recognize an original Tom Finland—and in excellent shape, too! Michael cancels all deals and snatches back his bounty.
At home that night, he searches “Tom of Finland” on the computer. Betty comes silently into the darkened room to discover her wide-eyed husband staring at the glowing, iconic images of exaggerated manhood. Innocent though Michael may be—she now understands him.
When Michael starts having lucid dreams of the living doll [Jacques Mitchell] beckoning on an ocean shore, old passions stir and fantasies long buried roll in with the tide. Betty, of course, is on to him. But what are they to do?
Kirkland and Young nail the culminating confrontation, where honesty blends with sorrow and despair is met with love.
Though short, Tom in America is a tight film, beautifully acted and lovingly framed. Tom has won the support of the Tom of Finland Foundation, the City College of New York, and the New York Foundation for the Arts. It was recently awarded Best Short Film at the Toronto Gay & Lesbian Film Festival.
© 2018 by The Tangent Group. All rights reserved.
- I was fortunate enough to meet Alves and featured actor Jacques Mitchell, and view the film, at the LGBT Expo in New York on March 1, 2015. A version of this review was published in the summer of 2015 by Out In Jersey online. ↩